The idea for the latest competition came courtesy of Steven Joseph, who suggested that I invite competitors to change a letter in the title of a well-known play and submit a programme note for the new production.
David Silverman’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Deaf started well but ran out of steam rather halfway through. Other promising titles that didn’t quite deliver included The Cheery Orchard, A Waste of Honey and The Wind in the Pillows. And no one, regrettably, did justice to The Bugger’s Opera.
I admired A.H. Harker’s Cook Back in Anger — ‘an intense investigation of the stresses that competitors in Bake Off and Masterchef bring to their home lives…As they return unsuccessfully from their respective heats to the intimacy of their own kitchen the social gulf between Jimmy and Alison is accentuated by his attempts to perfect lardy-cake while she sees how high she can pile spiralised cucumber’ — and John O’Byrne’s Absurd Parson Singular. But they were outflanked by the winners printed below, who are rewarded with £25 each. Frank Osen pockets the bonus fiver.
The Book of Moron, which began life as a musical adaptation of The Art of the Deal, has been updated and re-envisioned, thanks to an extremely generous investment by GRU Kompromat Capital Partners. The action now opens in the protagonist’s gold-plated apartment, with his upbeat ‘Tweet Inspiration’. Standout numbers range from ‘Getting to Know You’, sung by Vlad (an over-the-top Daniel Craig), and Donald’s wistful ‘Some Enchanted Email’, to the show-stopping ‘Don’t Cry for Me, I’m Subpoenaed’. The impressive sets transport us from a Moscow Penthouse (the steamy ‘Rain o’er Me’) to the White House, where endless revolving doors enliven ‘The Parade of the Press Secretaries’. Comic highlights include the ensemble of Anonymous Staffers performing ‘Dancin’ Leak to Leak’ and several malaprop exchanges among an increasingly frustrated Trump, and Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak —the latter two played by meerkats. Critics have dubbed this ‘the ultimate farcical family musical’.
Death of a Dalesman vividly dramatises the fate of a man of tradition, stoic and alone, who finds his values incompatible with the fast pace and cosmopolitanism of the modern world. Hector Grype, a retired security guard, bereft of family and friends, struggles to find a meaning for existence in the wilds of Yorkshire. Angst prompts him to invest in a day return to Leeds, seeking excitement, but disillusion awaits among the fleshpots. As he eloquently laments in a key speech, ‘It’s nowt but urban alienation in the big city. Bloody foreigners everywhere. They’ll steal the coat off your back. And don’t get me started on the prices!’
Who has not had this thought? For Hector the shock catalyses a personal crisis and a terminal confrontation. The first performance of this daring and original play left audiences mulling over its complex of meanings and reviewers lost for words.
Pinter’s early masterpiece about fish-theft and the territory that goes with it is well known for its menace. Who has taken the prize silver fish? And is it a carp? Perhaps a tench, even a bream? Who owns the water in a river? The furious debate about the accuracy of a licence remains a tour-de-force touching on our deepest fears about identity: a tug-of-words that leaves audiences gasping for breath. Carp-scrounger Davies is played in this Simon Godwin revival as an Eastern European (David Threlfall); rod, pole (and perch) merchant Mick is a mockney entrepreneur (Tom Felton); his troubled brother Aston sells reels and sinkers on eBay (Danny Dyer). But at the heart of this tussle, underneath the long, bankside silences, and under a troubled surface, The Carptaker remains a debate about whether we tip the moral scales with a decent catch. ‘I like carp, they’re… baskers.’ Listen attentively.
Art Spiller’s chilling drama A View from the Fridge takes us right into the harsh reality of life in modern Britain. This is austerity behind closed doors, viewed from the inside. Three households, revealed through three refrigerators and their contents, confront the audience via overlapping monologues of missed best-before dates, reduced for quick sale bargains, brand names shrunk on the competitive racetrack that is UK supermarkets. No stereotypes here: the scratched and dented family fridge shares the same existential struggle as the top-of-the-range steel giant, whatever their accents. As the doors inch open, initially in shame at their inner poverty, each refrigerator speaks louder and louder of its cravings: for full shelves, for the remembered days of exotic and luxury goods, whether it be the iced lollies for the ‘kids’, wild salmon fillets, or a bottomless supply of Bollinger. Living as it’s never heard. Listen to your shelves!
When Krapp’s Last Vape premièred a decade ago as a one-man show performed by the author, it was received primarily as a pro-legalisation satire, and widely praised (‘paradoxically stoned lucidity’) yet vilified (‘too incoherent to provide much of a buzz’) on that basis. Script revisions and subsequent productions, with the author in the director’s chair and a series of hand-picked actors in the title role, have earned growing appreciation for the metaphorical complexities swirling through this ‘alternately sombre and hilarious meditation on the how and why of getting high’.
Set in a fictional but decidedly California-esque US state where legal cannabis has become integral to the culture and economy, this pungently intoxicating comedy features the proprietor of a pot and paraphernalia shop sorting through his inventory after hours and musing on his own ‘Zig Zag to vaporiser’ history of cannabis consumption. We invite you to sit back, relax and inhale.
Your next challenge is to submit a poem about Big Ben’s bongs. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 6 September.